With every new wave of cell phones, consumers are being offered more and more features for less and less money, a trend exemplified by the Samsung PM-A840, available from Sprint PCS. In addition to the admittedly low-grade VGA camera, a speakerphone, Web-surfing capabilities, and a simple yet striking style that aids instead of impairs ergonomics, the light and compact PM-A840 offers superior volume and sound quality. Originally priced at $229.99, the Sprint PM-A840 is available for as low as $59 with a service contract. The sleek style on the Samsung PM-A840 hardly jumps out at you, but that's not to say it isn't remarkable. Rounded edges and an internal antenna make for few extremities, while the silver trim bordering the black face allows visibility inside a dark purse. At just 3.5 by 1.9 by 0.9 inches and 3.2 ounces, the PM-A840 also slides easily into tight pockets.
The postage stamp-size external display is monochrome, but it shows the date, the time, battery life, signal strength, and caller ID (where available). You can't change the backlighting time, however, so the face goes completely black when off. The camera lens sits above the display. You won't find a flash or a self-portrait mirror, but the external screen doubles as a grainy, barely visible viewfinder if you activate the camera with the flip closed. Below the camera-activation key on the right spine is a key with a speaker icon. Holding this button activates the Voice Commands function. With the flip up, pressing the same button once also brings up a list of recently made calls. On the left spine are the volume toggle and the headset jack.
Inside, the Samsung PM-A840 is all black, but the white-backlit keypad buttons are highly readable even in the brightest light. But because the small, raised keys are close together, users with larger hands may have trouble with misdials. On the other hand, the 1.8-inch-diagonal display is so bright and colorful (65,000 colors) that it seems bigger than it actually is. The text also is highly readable, due to a choice of font sizes and colors, a contrast control, and an adjustable backlighting time. The navigation keys are adequately sized, and they're placed and shaped well for sure-fingered manipulation. The five-way toggle doubles as a shortcut to four user-definable functions. You also get two soft keys, Talk and End buttons, a Back key, and a dedicated speakerphone control.The phone book on the Samsung PM-A840 holds 300 entries with room for multiple phone numbers and an e-mail address. You can also pair contacts with a picture for caller ID--though the image won't show up on the external display--and one of 20 polyphonic ring tones or 9 monophonic tones. Other features include a vibrate mode, voice dialing and commands, a calendar, a world clock, an alarm clock, a to-do list, a memo pad, a calculator, and a countdown timer. You also get text and multimedia messaging and text voice messaging, which lets you leave a voice message without actually ringing the other person's phone. The speakerphone is another thoughtful touch, and you can turn it on before you make a call.